In Conversation with Kate Charlesworth and Shazleen Khan: A Review for GWL’s Open the Door Festival

A couple of weeks ago I took over GWL’s twitter to talk all things women and graphic novels and then wrote a blog expanding on this and got lots of positive feedback with many people telling me they had a few in mind that they were looking to get their hands on. So, to those individuals I can only apologise because here’s a few more!

This blog is going to be a little review of GWL’s Open the Door event ‘In Conversation with Kate Charlesworth and Shazleen Khan’. If any of you were at this event then I’m sure – like me – you had an amazing time but then realised your bank account was going to take a hit when you discovered all the amazing graphic novels you now MUST add to your bookshelf. 

The event with Kate and Shazleen was a wonderful night filled will all the elements the library has set out to do with their theme of celebrating women who are artists and writers. What better way to do this than catching up with two amazing graphic novelists who shared their experiences in such a nuanced and insightful way. 

Starting off with a question about their journey into the world of comics both artists got to talk us through their careers. Kate has been a major influence within the comics community for many years and Shazleen, although having only started a few years ago is definitely one to watch and support because their work is absolutely beautiful. You can follow them both on twitter @shazleenmkhan and @auntiestuds to keep up-to-date with their work. 

Kate walked attendees through some slides of her work and how its changed and evolved throughout the years. Creating work for notable LGBTQ+ comics, Kate’s art and storytelling appears in The Pink Paper, Strip: AIDS and Gay News to name but a few. Importantly, as Kate was beginning her career she found herself asking ‘where am I in these comics?’ referring to the likes of DC and Marvel. It is no secret that queer representation in comics was notoriously poor so Shazleen and Kate discussed the importance of the indie comics scene in representing their community. For many queer creators in the 80s, Section 28 did not have the intended effect as Kate discusses how it ‘kicked all queer creators into action’ and saw a flourish of creativity, community and support.  

(Side note: A massive thank you to all those who rebelled against this barbaric act to continue giving us amazing content we get to discuss here at the library!)

One thing that Shazleen brought to our attention is how comics have evolved from black and white to colour, and how this allows people of colour to be represented within the pages. Comics can be an effective medium in allowing creators to be politically aware and radical which both Kate and Shazleen have brought to their work. Shazleen’s current webcomic BUUZA!! is a comic set in the Middle East which covers themes of found family, diaspora and religion. I don’t know about you, but I know when I first got into comics I didn’t come across anything like this in the bookshops so I’m very much looking forward to giving it a read.  

Finally, as Kate and Shazleen discussed their differences in publishing and how times have changed with most of the business being done online I couldn’t help but think of how important and influential comic creators are yet I don’t see this work celebrated enough. Sure, I follow the Women’s Prize for Fiction every year and like to pick up the odd Pulitzer winner every now and again but where’s this enthusiasm with comics? Although they appear to be more successful in France with their Angolême International Comics Festival we know that graphic novels are extremely important and influential throughout our culture. This is evident from Kate’s career and influence in LGBTQ+ comics that I feel should be more widely celebrated. Comics don’t just portray superheroes with fancy powers, they portray all manners of diverse themes. Even as an avid comic reader I’ve found myself at the end of this event hoping that we can better celebrate the works of comics and follow along the careers of talented creators like Kate and Shazleen.

And if you’re ever curious about getting into comics feel free to get in touch with GWL’s resident geek. No really, please do because I have to give my poor mum a break.

Thank you for reading!!


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